Sunday, April 18, 2004

Photo from BBC News

With the election of leftist Luis Ignácio Lula da Silva (Lula), Brazilian politics looked as if they might embark on a different course from the previous neoliberalist, macroeconomic reforms of Cardoso. Yet since in power, Lula has not made any significant alterations to the macroeconomic reforms of the Cardoso era that many expected and some feared. At the same time, there is a growing sector of the Brazilian public that identifies Lula with rightwing politics. In a recent Datafolha survey, 38 percent of those asked would classify Lula ideologically as belonging to the right wing, 12 percent would place him in the centre, and only 31 percent would currently place Lula as left of centre (Latin American Weekly Report, 2 September 2003).

Despite his participation in Brazilian politics as a voice for labour and union movements since the 1970s, since the past election Lula has arguably demonstrated that he plans to continue the IMF-approved austere financial measures (Financial Times, 25 June 2002). Moreover, an increasing number of Latin American scholars have regarded Lula as a descendent of Cardoso’s right-of-center economic reforms. These authors argue that although Lula’s party, the Partido do Trabalhador (PT), has traditionally represented labour interests, there has been a shift in his politics towards neoliberalism.

From his recent alliance with the Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro (PMDB), to the controversy now surrounding the PT over the expulsion of more radical, critical members like senator Heloisa Helena, there is emerging evidence to support these arguments. His previous supporters are also critic of the relationship Lula has enjoyed with the IMF, traditionally viewed in Brazil as a mouthpiece for the US in international affairs.

At the end of November 2003 Lula was close to completing his first year in office. Meanwhile, the IMF hailed the president’s macroeconomic policies and issued a press release stating that ‘As the President and his administration celebrate the first anniversary of their election, we at the Fund would like to extend our congratulations for their first year in office (Press Release No. 03/182, 5 November 2003).” While this may project a somewhat stabilizing image of Brazil to foreign investors, Brazilians feel, as the Datafolha survey shows, that their president has committed himself to right-of-centre politics.

However, analysis of some other policy areas reveals that he has not abandoned his original leftist platform entirely. For instance, Lula’s foreign policy remains distinct from that of Cardoso. Although Lula has shown signs of continuing Cardoso’s market program, his international policies, unlike his domestic ones, do not seem to be geared towards appeasement of core nations but rather toward carving out a stronger and more independent stance for Brazil in the international stage. If anything, Lula’s market and trade policies seem to be geared towards the strengthening of relations with other developing nations.

But problems are on the horizon. In order to create a strong role for Brazil internationally, Lula must maintain the support of his electorate. To lose their support could mean a loss of legitimacy. And to maintain this legitimacy, Lula must advocate greater social inclusion, and the actualization of the promises made during his campaign. Lula’s approval is no longer riding on a “honeymoon” with the Brazilian electorate, and unless these reforms begin rather soon, Lula is in danger of alienating certain groups that previously supported him. Despite the constraints on Lula’s actions, imposed both externally by agents such as the IMF and internally, by necessary cooperation from a large right-of-center PMDB presence in the legislation, Lula needs to be remain more accountable to those who elected him and more sensitive to marginalized groups so as to maintain legitimacy. And in a country that has come out of military rule only a decade and a half ago, it is all the more important for a leftist opposition to establish to the public that using the democratic system to resolve conflict can work.


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